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World News

Poor in Afghanistan forced to eat grass says Catholic charity

by Donna Birrell

The Catholic aid agency CAFOD ha said some people in Afghanistan are being forced to eat grass because they have no food amid a worsening economic crisis. 

Almost a year after the Taliban seized control the charity said millions of people are facing hunger and desperate poverty because of soaring prices and drought. It claimed sanctions imposed on the country by the West are making the situation worse and is calling for the British government to step up support to help those most in need. 

Niamh Furey, CAFOD's programme officer for Afghanistan told Premier: "Things have been extremely difficult. Over the last year things have gone from a really difficult situation to people being in dire straits. As well as the mass displacement of people there is also drought. We have the third significant drought in five years, which has affected crops, and also with people being displaced, people haven't been there, farmers haven't been there to tend to their crops. So we have this situation of really acute food insecurity.

"The World Food Programme reports that almost half of Afghans are experiencing acute hunger and amongst those lots of children. People are in desperate situations, families  have been forced to say to their children they have nothing to eat. Stories are emerging of children having to eat grass because there really is just nothing that is available to families. So it's tough. It's a really difficult situation."

Maher is a labourer with two daughters and four sons and has been unemployed since last year. He explained: "Life has been tough with the droughts, some days we have been left no choice but to eat grass. This has left my son and wife sick; their intestines have been left damaged. Our garden is gone and all the fruit trees. Our almond trees are as dry as the rest of the land." 

CAFOD, which has been working in Afghanistan since 1980 and after the takeover, scaled up its work further, providing cash assistance to nearly 50,000 people, distributing emergency food and supporting women's rights groups. The charity said sanctions are making it increasingly difficult to supply funds to local organisations, who are forced to dig deep to keep vital projects going.  

Furey said the erosion of women's rights in Afghanistan is also increasing: "The lives of women and the problems that they face are immense at the moment. One of the main issues that we're seeing is the lack of economic freedom for women. So we have really highly educated women who are professionals, experts within their field and they are being driven out of jobs, because they're no longer seen as appropriate professionals. 

"We've even seen situations where women have been asked to nominate a male member of their family who may be able to take over the responsibilities that they held. And this is for people with very high level positions within ministries. Women who are experts within their field and in their ministries and they are being forced in some cases to stay at home to give up their job."

Howard Mollett, CAFOD's Head of Humanitarian Policy said: "It's no secret that sanctions are contributing to an economic crisis. Our partners are doing everything they can to cover the costs but we can't continue like this. The need is mounting, the situation is becoming more extreme. Afghan organisations are well-placed to respond, we need to get more funds to them, and quickly. 

"One year on, tough questions must be asked of the British government on Afghanistan. The government has repeatedly trumpeted its aid package, but in fact UK aid to Afghanistan remains less than it was in 2019. The suffering and consequent humanitarian needs in Afghanistan have spiralled, with almost twice as many people experiencing acute hunger than was the case in 2019, but UK support has been cut.  

"What's more, action must be taken to ensure that funds can reach local civil society groups given all the challenges with money transfers into and within the country. They are doing critical work, but as the situation worsens, their ability to continue is increasingly challenged." 

The UK government says it has doubled its aid to Afghanistan in the 2021 to 2022 financial year to £286 million : "We are matching the 2021 to 2022 commitment this financial year by pledging £286 million again. The UK continues to work with international partners to ensure aid agencies can deliver desperately needed aid to those most in need."

The Taliban stormed back to power in Afghanistan on 15th August 2021 after the United States-led forces withdrew from the country.


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